Teaching Women the Ways of the Marketplace
Thursday, March 6, 2008
When Fatima Kazimi dreamed of opening a clothing shop in central Afghanistan, she found there were few entrepreneurs to emulate and even fewer female business owners. So she went halfway around the world, to a 2 1/2 -week management program in Arizona, for the business know-how she needed to set out on her own.
"It's a society that doesn't give opportunities for women to participate in a public life," Kazimi said of Afghanistan. "The program gave me courage."
Today, Kazimi, 34, is the only female storeowner at the Bamiyan bazaar, her hometown market. She even became her husband's boss.
The program is now primed to receive a big boost from Goldman Sachs after the investment banking giant announced Wednesday that it would spend $100 million over the next five years to provide business education to 10,000 women in developing countries.
The initiative would enhance existing programs like the one offered at Thunderbird School of Global Management in Arizona, which will team up with the American University of Afghanistan to offer a six-month course in Kabul, as well as establish new programs.
Goldman's effort aims to improve local economies by giving women in Africa and the Middle East access to education they might otherwise not have. The program partners universities in the United States and Europe with business schools in developing countries. They will work together to offer courses lasting several weeks to several months. Most of the women will leave the program with certificates after taking courses in such topics as writing business plans, market research, accounting, e-commerce and accessing capital. Some women will receive scholarships to earn MBAs.
"No country will ever achieve its full potential if half of its talent pool is stymied or underrepresented," Lloyd C. Blankfein, chairman and chief executive of Goldman, said while announcing the program at Columbia University, which is participating in the initiative. He said Goldman is a disciplined investor that tries to follow, as well as create, GDP around the world. In doing so, he said, "there is no better, no more efficient investment . . . than the investment you'd make in women."
Blankfein said in an interview that the initiative is a natural outgrowth of Goldman's operations, including its investing activities in developing economies and recruiting at business schools abroad. The firm has also conducted research showing the potential of women to add to economic growth.
Blankfein said the program would also have a domestic component aimed at training American women living in environments with the "same characteristics" as the women abroad. He said he had a specific U.S. region in mind but declined to elaborate.
One of the proposed programs will be jointly developed by the School of Banking and Finance in Kigali, Rwanda, and the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan. Jeanne d'Arc Mujawamariya, Rwanda's education minister, said in an interview that this program would go a long way toward strengthening the work her government has started. She said 96 percent of children in Rwanda are enrolled in primary schools, compared with 52 percent before the genocide of 1994. Of the 96 percent, more than half are girls, she said. The minister and other program participants were in New York for the announcement.
"With this program, we will create job creators, not job seekers," she said. "We have women engineers. If they take that course in entrepreneurship, they can create engineering companies. . . . If everyone who completes undergraduate degrees is empowered with entrepreneurship, the life of Rwandans will change."
One of the initiative's first beneficiaries will be Iman Youssry, 27, who last year opened a furniture store after completing a fine-arts degree at a university in Cairo. She said she thought several times of giving up after she ran into problems obtaining materials on time and offering the furniture at competitive prices. "I hope to learn how to manage the business," said Youssry, who will attend a five-week course at the American University in Cairo.
"We know that basic education and microfinancing are critical for reducing poverty," said Gene Sperling, former president Bill Clinton's economic adviser, who is consulting for the Goldman program. "But this initiative wanted to aim at the next level. What does it take to increase the pool of entrepreneurial and managerial talent that can help create more growth and ensure that it's more broadly shared?"